By 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad had completed a transcontinental line from Minnesota to Eastern Washington. They needed to cross the Columbia River and the spot they chose was upstream of the mouth of the Snake River, today the location of Pasco and Kennewick, Washington. The line would then follow the Yakima Valley and cross the Cascades at Stampede Pass.
Northern Pacific construction engineer J.T. Kingsbury concluded that the best place to cross the Columbia was four miles upriver from the Northern Pacific town of Ainsworth at the mouth of the Snake River. Since the existing track and town were four miles below the proposed crossing, the Northern Pacific built a new section of track to the crossing site, where it established the town of Pasco.
Trains were ferried by steamer across the Columbia to Kennewick on the west bank until the bridge could be constructed. Doing so was a major engineering challenge. At high water, the river at the crossing point was almost a half mile wide and 45 feet deep, with a current of up to seven miles per hour. The Northern Pacificís finances were not strong, and the company opted against building a bridge with solid masonry piers and an all-iron superstructure. Instead, utilizing the timber that was abundant along its Cascade Branch line, the company designed a timber-and-iron superstructure resting on stone-filled crib piers of timber with nested-pile foundations. The bridge would consist of nine through-truss spans, five on the Pasco side and four on the Kennewick side, with a drawspan in the middle. The total length of the bridge was 2,587 feet. ..."
[HistoryLink.com Website, 2006]
A temporary bridge was first built, which opened to trains on December 3, 1887. The permanent bridge was completed on July 14, 1888 and opened soon afterwards. A much-improved bridge remains in use today.